An Approach to Plan Development and Team Formation
Plan of Execution Workshops
Davy McKee Corporation
A workshop conducted at the beginning of the project for the key team members allows for the development of plans of execution and for the emergence of a cohesive group.
To issue a complete project, a Plan of Execution is one of the most desired accomplishments of a Project Manager. PLANS OF EXECUTION comprehensively answer the project requirements. These plans determine the organization, strategies, schedules and relationships among them.
To best assure the success of the project, those in charge of the actual execution must develop these plans under the leadership of the Project Manager. The plans of execution must conform to both the contractual requirements and to the objectives of the Client and the Parent Organization. Workshops concentrate this effort in the early stages of the project, and insure more timely, comprehensive and conclusive results. The participants become a party to the plans and therefore assert better leadership.
As an activity concurrent to planning, the workshop can act to change the project team from individuals with different backgrounds, experiences and personalities into a homogeneous working group. Motivation may be increased by direct involvement of the members and affect perception of the factors influencing the project results.
The overall quality of relationships improves when each member understands the roles, responsibilities, difficulties and restrictions of others. The workshop also permits the project manager to develop each team member’s project position description. The work standard of performance required of each team member is also clarified at this time.
Activities at the beginning of a project are hectic by nature and may be perceived as undefined. Time is seldom available for all key members to participate in the planning effort. An intensive workshop to develop plans of execution and to cement a cohesive team will significantly increase the possibility for project success.
The Planning Function
The three main contributors to the project consist of the Client, the Parent Organization (the project team’s management organization) and the Project Team. With undeveloped written plans, the objectives of these parties are seldom in balance. Incomplete plans may evolve at a time of crisis, and may not reflect an overall strategy which all parties should agree to at the beginning of the project.
The development of project plans occurs most often in one of the following ways:
• By decree: The project manager directs the work of the project team and informs them only of short-range plans. The project manager has sole responsibility for the interpretation of objectives and for any planning adjustments or corrections.
• Crisis plans: These plans are not precisely defined nor are they published. They are oriented toward “averting the crisis.”
• Committee plans: Many team members develop partial plans during periodic progress review meetings. The resultant plans are again, generally short-range and inconclusive.
As a result of increasing demands and more sophisticated techniques, these methods are insufficient.
An effective plan of execution must incorporate many aspects besides schedules. Critical paths, bar-charts, or other time-oriented reports have been confused with plans of execution. These scheduling documents reflect highly sophisticated techniques worked out by “isolated” control groups and are directed toward time and logistic considerations.
Plan of Execution
A plan of execution details the how? who? when? and where?. It is an answer to the what? and is in accordance with the why?. The what has to be done represents the scope of work as well as the project specifications. The why defines the project objectives to the Client and the Parent Organization’s satisfaction.
Answers to the above questions must be compatible. They cannot be prepared independent of each other. To positively affect the project, those responsible for the execution must jointly develop a balanced strategy.
In the development of the Plan of Execution, consideration must be given to the following GUIDELINES FOR PLAN DEVELOPMENT:
• What are the specific objectives to be met? (For example, develop an alternate fuel independent of cost)
• What is the work breakdown?
• Who must do what, where and when?
• What are the obstacles in performing the work?
• What are the major decisions which must be made? (When and by whom)
• What is the sequence of work?
• What is the difference between the execution of this job and normal procedures?
• How must the involved groups interrelate?
• How will the accomplishments in achieving specific targets and goals be measured?
This paper will describe how to use an intensive workshop to develop the plan of execution and accelerate the formation of a cohesive project team. This is done by creating an environment conducive to meeting these two main objectives.
The Intensive Workshop Approach
The workshop brings together the key members of the project team at the early stages of the project, preferably in an undisturbed setting for a brief, concentrated period of time. Substantial preparation is required by all participants prior to the workshop. The Project Manager controls the sessions.
• To formulate the PLANS, STRATEGIES, ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE, and RELATIONSHIPS for successful execution according to requirements and with the participation of the involved parties.
• To obtain a COHESIVE PROJECT TEAM in which each member understands his specific responsibilities, authority and standard of performance as interpreted by the Project Manager and in accordance with the requirements of the Parent Organization.
Benefits and Implementation
The environment created in a workshop atmosphere will result in the following benefits:
• The project team’s early concentration toward planning.
• Organized input into the plan by each of the involved parties.
• More comprehensive and conclusive results since the workshop leads to a written plan.
• A more timely plan due to early concentrated effort.
• An opportunity for the project manager to form an early impression of members of the project team.
• A chance for all participants to know the other team members and their distinct project roles.
• Higher probability for individual commitment to the plan because of the opportunity for interaction and discussion.
• Early participation in planning and plan interpretation which tends to minimize later conflict among project team members.
The workshop presents a unique environment which encourages all individuals to present their views. To maximize participation, each member must perceive the potential benefits of a successful workshop as it affects their work. Motivating factors that will encourage participation and preparation include:
• Direct identification with the work as “my project” and “my team.”
• New and strengthened relationships between key members.
• Direct recognition from management.
• Understanding everyone’s plans will facilitate each individual’s future work per author.
• Possibility of career growth.
Many benefits will result from preparation and participation in the workshop; however, it remains essential to issue written work plans shortly after. These comprehensive documents should facilitate dissemination of the agreed plan results throughout the remaining organization.
Workshop efforts are incomplete until the establishment of follow-up procedures. As conditions change, execution plans may require modification. Team cohesiveness may become disturbed. The Project Manager must assess the need for corrective action.
Conditions Necessary for a Workshop
In implementing an intensive workshop approach to planning a project, the following conditions are essential:
• There must be full commitment to the concept on the part of the Project Manager as well as the Parent Organization.
• Each participant should receive a full explanation as to the purpose, expectations, and guidelines of the workshop.
• The workshop must be held in the early stages of the project, but only when sufficient information is available.
• Advanced preparation of a detailed workshop agenda in order to maximize necessary participants’ interaction.
• Extensive preparation must be completed by participants prior to the meeting.
• The Project Manager must lead preparation of individual plans by outlining his basic project strategy as it affects those plans.
• The workshop must be oriented towards discussion periods rather than long technical dissertations.
• The physical environment established for the workshop must provide for uninterrupted sessions in a conducive atmosphere.
The workshop approach should not be considered without the full endorsement and participation of the Project Manager. The Project Manager must control the planning and decision-making process.
The agenda for the workshop requires careful preparation to achieve the objectives. Some subjects will be informational in nature, while others require well-organized discussion periods with maximum member involvement. Sessions could be designed in different formats, each one requiring a different type of preparation, leadership, and direction. To fulfill the objectives, it is suggested that the agenda be organized in three major phases:
I INTERACTION OF THE PARENT ORGANIZATION AND THE PROJECT TEAM
II INTERACTION OF THE PROJECT TEAM MEMBERS
III INTERACTION OF THE CLIENT AND THE PROJECT TEAM
Each of these three phases is discussed in more detail in the following paragraphs. A suggested synopsis of the agenda for a workshop is provided in Figure 1.
I. INTERACTION OF THE PARENT ORGANIZATION AND THE PROJECT TEAM
(Refer to Figure 1, Part I.)
The individuals involved in the development of the execution plan must incorporate the commitments made before contract award, the essence of the contracts, the Parent Organization’s objectives, and the goal of the Client.
The first series of sessions must deal with the transition of “ownership” of the project from the Parent to the Project Manager (team), who will actually execute the project.
Before assigning most team members to the work, the Parent Organization will have to finalize Client negotiations. To reach that stage, preliminary project plans were developed, commitments were made, the Project Manager and other individuals were selected, costs were established, and contractual documents were signed. All of these aspects should be viewed as to their impact on the stated objectives of the Parent Organization. The results of the efforts during the negotiations influence the ultimate success of the project.
The objectives of the Parent Organization can vary with the elements included in the contract, the financial status, the economic outlook, the in-house availability of resources, and the type of technology. Individuals involved in the planning must know those management objectives that affect the project execution. Misunderstanding of management goals could result in misdirection, perception or lack of management support, and finally, frustration of personnel.
The contract stipulates the legal obligations of all parties. A good comprehension of the contract provisions affords an understanding of how to best influence the project results.
The Parent Organization’s perception of the Client’s objectives is important since it influences the preliminary project strategy during the negotiation phase. The Client must indicate the proper balance between schedule, cost, and technology for each specific project.
II. INTERACTION OF THE PROJECT TEAM MEMBERS
(Refer to Figure 1, Part II.)
The core of the intensive workshop consists of a series of well-planned sessions in which team members develop actual working plans.
The level of participation will depend on the perceived importance of the workshop, the quality of the work plans, and the leadership shown by key individuals.
An orderly and productive effort depends upon the full commitment of the Project Manager. The Project Manager asserts the type of leadership exercised throughout the project. The Project Manager must resolve any possible disputes that may stem from the discussions. Since the emphasis during this phase serves to clarify the interface with other team members, participants must maximize the preparation pertinent to their areas. Each person should realize that every team member must understand each other’s work plan, restrictions, interfaces and degrees of responsibility.
These series of sessions can be divided into five groups:
A. Overall project plan
B. Project Manager’s view of the team members’ roles
C. Project team members’ view of roles of others
D. Specific plans for each group
E. Performance assurance
A. Overall Project Plan
The Project Manager must define for the team the parameters which constitute project success or failure. As such, the Project Manager must outline the overall project plan. This description will explain the general view and also set the guidelines for the remaining development. If necessary, at this time, the Project Manager may clarify the scope of projected work.
B. Project Manager’s View of the Team Members’ Roles
The Project Manager explains the project organization using the organization chart to show the functional interrelationships. The organization should be explained within the context of the project objectives. Organization charts are only graphical representations of reporting relationships. These sessions are an opportunity to add the personality of each of the team members.
Often, Project Managers working in matrix-type organizations lack the opportunity to fully explain the position description for all members. If this effort is routinely accomplished as a departmental function, the Project Manager must tailor it to fulfill specific needs. Each team member should receive a written description which delineates relevant duties, responsibilities, and authorities in the areas of planning, organization, leadership and direction, control, and working relationships. Descriptions should include decision levels for each activity. To facilitate team work, other members should develop awareness of other pertinent position descriptions. Everyone should receive a standard of performance for each position description category. A good understanding of the basis of evaluation by the job leader may improve employee motivation. A project assignment in a matrix assignment may create a feeling of isolation with regard to individual career growth. Clear and timely preparation of both documents will avoid many future misunderstandings and may result in the foundation for team-building.
C. Project Team Members’ View of Roles of Others
For an orderly execution, team members should agree as to how to deal with third parties. Specifics are worked out by them under the guidelines given by the Project Manager.
Discussion will cover internal lines of communication, relationship with the Parent Organization, Client, and vendors, project meetings, reporting procedures, documentation, as well as other pertinent subjects.
An informal group environment is the suggested vehicle for these constructive discussions. Each participant becomes involved in the development of the agreements.
The integration process between all major groups, with different areas of responsibilities, becomes accelerated by exploring such questions as the “How will they communicate?” “How much work can overlap?” and “What is the basis of the decision-making process?”
A well-structured session which encourages a frank exchange of ideas will set the stage. Even though the matter might not result in resolution at this time, future relationships will substantially benefit from these discussions.
The relationship with the Parent Organization must be considered. The project can be executed within a matrix organization using either a departmental or task force approach. Team members must conclude how to obtain the maximum benefit when dealing with departmental management. Disagreements involving availability, quality, and timing of resources may result. During this part of the workshop, the Project Manager outlines the procedures for communications, individual responsibilities, and finally, the process for any necessary escalation of conflict. Helpful devices may include round table discussions and/or cases to illustrate the subject.
D. Specific Plans for Each Group
Most of the workshop will be devoted to the specific work plans. These will cover technical and commercial considerations of such groups as basic design, engineering, procurement, manufacturing and construction.
Each major discipline must develop and present a specific plan of execution in conformance with the project requirements and objectives. Refer to the GUIDELINES FOR PLAN DEVELOPMENT given at the beginning of this paper for preparation of this plan. Major emphasis should address the following aspects:
• Major considerations to be faced
• Obstacles in performing the work
• Sequence of work, schedule
• Decisions to be made (when and by whom)
• Interaction with other groups
• Plans for achieving specific targets and goals
Individuals from diverse technical backgrounds and responsibilities will be instrumental in the execution of each specific plan. The presentation format must aim towards promoting an understanding between these individuals.
The presenter should specifically identify the obstacles that the group will face, how they plan to overcome the obstacles, and how others will interface with them.
A conference set-up is desirable, and suitable graphic aids for this session should be employed. At the end of each presentation, a discussion period allows time for clarification.
E. Performance Assurance
The work plans, as presented by the major disciplines, require support by the control procedures for effective performance assurance and corrective action. Each one of the control groups must then also develop plans to assist the others. Specific methods must be designed to fulfill the requirements.
Commonly, the control group engineers may perceive a lack of understanding and support from upper and intermediate project management. The workshop presents a good opportunity for schedule and cost engineers to “sell” their techniques and assure themselves of direct involvement during the project by participating in the development of specific work plans. While developing plans, the key question is: “What can we do to assist those responsible for budgets and schedules?” Sophisticated techniques are oriented to developing better control systems, but must not be imposed on result-oriented individuals.
During the final discussions the specified work plans and assurance performance have to be adjusted and then issued to all parties. Only after considering and incorporating the input from all parties can the benefits of a workshop be harvested.
III. INTERACTION OF THE CLIENT AND THE PROJECT TEAM
(Refer to Figure 1, Part III.)
The workshop may culminate at a meeting with the Client’s representative. The project members have completed a series of sessions to determine all aspects of the plan and can present them to the other party. Also, the Client’s team has already had involvement in the conception of the general plan before contract award. An exchange of ideas will then test the compatibility and the proposition feasibility.
A preconceived image of each other could result from prior job executions, recommendations or performance during contract conditioning. This first major session, solely devoted to discussions of the execution approach may facilitate future communications, reporting and the problem solving process.
Whenever a meeting is possible, within the context of contract agreements, both the project and Client teams can enhance the possibilities for project success. The workshop will have been the vehicle for this desired result.
One More Time
Comprehensive plans of execution must be developed at the beginning of the project. These plans, which include schedules, strategies and organization, respond to the project requirements to accordance with Parent and Client objectives.
A workshop is a conducive environment for the completion of this task. Members become instrumental in the development when a well designed compact series of sessions cover the required aspects. Participant’s motivation may be improved, by identification with “my project” and “my team.”
Again, the level of participation by the project team depends upon the perceived importance of the workshop, the quality of the work plans and the leadership demonstrated by key individuals.
Editor’s Note – This article was previously published in the 1978 Proceedings of the Project Management Institute, 10th Annual Seminar/Symposium, Los Angeles, California.